Three more European nations will join the ten group winners in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. The play-off draw looked like this:
Path A: Scotland vs Ukraine and Wales vs Austria.
Path B: Russia vs Poland and Sweden vs Czech Republic.
Path C: Portugal vs Turkey and Italy vs North Macedonia.
However, Paths A and B have been changed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russia have been disqualified, meaning Poland have received a bye through to the final on Tuesday 29 March.
Meanwhile, Scotland vs Ukraine and the subsequent Path A Final have been postponed and will now take place in June.
Portugal vs Turkey
Portugal are a 21st century powerhouse, qualifying for each of the last five World Cups whilst winning Euro 2016 and then the UEFA Nations League in 2019.
However, A Seleção are in real danger of missing this World Cup having finished second in their qualifying group.
Fernando Santos’ side needed just a draw from their matchday ten encounter, but lost 2-1 to Serbia, courtesy of a stoppage time goal in Lisbon.
That was one of just three competitive internationals Portugal have lost on home soil in the last 40, dating back to September 2008.
Nevertheless, they now need to win two home games this week to ensure they’re heading to Qatar in November.
Turkey meanwhile have only appeared at one World Cup in the last 68 years but it was a memorable one, reaching the 2002 semi-finals.
The last couple of years haven’t gone to plan for the Crescent-Stars, suffering Nations League relegation before losing all three matches at Euro 2020.
Nevertheless, they snuck into second place in World Cup qualifying Group G, below Netherlands but above Norway.
Stefan Kuntz remains unbeaten as Turkey manager, winning three of four games, but that record will be sorely put to the test in Porto.
Italy vs North Macedonia
The other Path C semi-final features another one of international football’s traditional heavyweights: Italy.
Gli Azzurri lost in the play-offs for the last World Cup, missing the tournament for the first time in 60 years, but recovered magnificently by winning Euro 2020.
However, since defeating England at Wembley in that final, Roberto Mancini’s side then only won one of five World Cup qualifiers, drawing four.
This would prove costly as they ended up second in Group C, two points below Switzerland, thereby dropping into these play-offs.
It would be quite a story if the reigning European Champions failed to qualify for a second successive World Cup Finals.
Everyone is looking forward to a potential heavyweight clash between Portugal and Italy at Estádio do Dragão, but both giants must win their semi-finals first.
North Macedonia have happy memories of play-offs, beating Kosovo and Georgia in 2020 to qualify for their first-ever major tournament.
The Lynxes then did very well to finish second in qualifying Group J, below Germany but above Romania, Armenia and Iceland.
Of course, Blagoja Milevski’s side are massive underdogs, but they travel to Palermo with absolutely nothing to lose.
Wales vs Austria
Despite the postponement of Scotland vs Ukraine, Path A’s other semi-final is going ahead as planned at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Hosts Wales have qualified for the last two European Championship, reaching the 2016 semi-finals, but haven’t been at a World Cup since 1958.
The Dragons are unbeaten in seven qualifiers, form which saw them take second spot in Group E, below Belgium but above Czech Republic.
They have also lost just two of their last 23 competitive home games, with only Denmark and Ireland leaving Cardiff victorious since 2013.
Austria meanwhile are two wins away from their first World Cup appearance since 1998.
Das Team actually finished fourth in Group F, winning just five of ten matches, but snuck into the play-offs via their Nations League performance.
These two met in World Cup 2018 qualifying, drawing 2-2 in Vienna before Wales won 1-0 in Cardiff.
Sweden vs Czech Republic
Who will advance through to Tuesday’s Path B final and face Poland at Stadion Śląski?
Sweden have qualified for 12 World Cups in their history, reaching the semi-finals of USA ’94 and the quarters four years ago.
To get to Russia, the Blågult beat Italy in the play-offs, so will be hoping for more play-off success in 2022.
In qualifying, Janne Andersson’s side beat Spain 2-1 in Solna, but it wasn’t enough as they finished second in Group B, below the Spanish.
Nevertheless, Sweden have an imperious record at the Friends Arena, having only lost three of their last 23 competitive home games.
All of those defeats came in the Nations League, against Turkey, France and Portugal, last losing a home qualifier in 2015 to Austria.
Czech Republic therefore are the underdogs in this tie, but not by much after they reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2020.
The Czechs have qualified for all seven European Championships since independence but Germany 2006 is their only World Cup appearance to date.
Jaroslav Šilhavý’s side actually finished third in their qualifying group, below Belgium and Wales, but are here thanks to their Nations League performance.
If they’re to be in Tuesday’s final in Chorzów, the Czech Republic will need to beat Sweden for the very first time.
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